Growing Up in Castle Park

Once a year we all looked forward to the Miners Welfare Gala.

Born 1939 I lived throughout the war in Castle Park, went to Backworth School, then moved to Shiremoor.  The reason we moved was, once I started Shiremoor Modern in 1950 after failing the 11 plus, I used to leg it along the railway line every lunchtime for my dinner.  It was a race against the Newcastle – Newbiggin train but I thought I knew what I was doing, and it kept me in good shape for all school sports.  My kin were not so sure, so we moved.  I can’t remember ever wearing any uniform, the boys and girls were separated, and many a teachers’ whack I got for looking at the girls netball.

School films were a cheap night out and helped school funds.  Most were silent movies way back then, but the local cinema called the GAFF showed about 4 different films in the week.  Technicolor was soon the in-thing and a serial that was continued.  Flash Gordon was the kids’ favourite.  Saturday was a special morning, with a trip to the Coliseum cinema in Whitley Bay.  I was an ABC minor and had a badge to prove it, and was permitted in the Circle.

My dad smoked Woodbines and Turf, and the odd Pasha prior to those.  As I did most the local messages, I got to keep the pictures out of the Turf packets.  Lots of stuff was delivered by horse and cart back then, they has some sort of gas lamps attached on the dark  nights.  The Coop was the main supplier; milk, greens, and bread.  You got plastic coupons all different colours for the amount of milk you required.  I often went up the stables to help feed the horses.  I thought they were doing me a favour letting me help on the milk round 0600 on a Saturday morning, but really it was I who was saving their legs.

The rag man was another who hawked the back lanes and gave us balloons for old bits and pieces of cloth.  This was good because my mom got coats to cut up for clippie mats from her friends and I snuck them to the rag man for a balloon or a penny,  oops here comes another clip!  Does anyone remember all those 3d or a 1d off vouchers the postman brought, (for OMO, Oxydol, Surf etc), and lots of other things, all redeemed by the local shop in return for sweets.

Rationing was about to end, and the shops became abundant with sweets, yum yum.  The games we played under the gas lamps were ‘kick the can’ and ‘knock 9 doors’, as well as ‘chucks’, and ‘nearest the wall’ with tops from the school milk bottles.  Cardboard they were, with pictures on, long before the old tinfoil tops took their place.

Once a year we all looked forward to the Miners Welfare Gala – we called it the Treat.  School kids marched behind colliery bands from Backworth, Holystone, New York and Shiremoor.  We met up at the crossroads then went onto the field collecting our bag of cakes, drinks, and coinage on entry.  Inter school finals were played that day and some great matches they were.  A young boys’ Wembley Cup Final, and the same for the girls and their netball.  Funny how I never went to watch them when it was there to be seen, perhaps the glance from the classroom window was more fun.  It’s sad now that the venue has just closed for a new metro station.

My memories go back, also to going to work with my dad who worked on the highways.  All the men had those tea cans, with sugar and condensed milk.  The winter of 1947 sticks in my mind more than any other.  He had to go out on the back of a wagon that moved 5 miles per hour, shovelling huge chunks of grit onto the roads.  That just helped the build-up of snow, not like the salt that’s used these days, thrown out from speeding trucks.  I did have a picture from 1947 of the first double decker bus from Newcastle to Backworth after that road had been closed.  Needless to say, the snow in the ditches was every bit as high as the bus.  Ironic that in later life, after having served 9 years in the army, here I was driving these buses myself.

In another memory on this site there is a story about a girl who changed buses at New York power station – the number 55 and 54. I did those, but I often did the number 17 route that she talked about.  It was a 15 minute service during the day, only one went through Shiremoor and the other Park Estate.  Many a time I drove in those back ender buses with the front window open wide, the smoke added to the fog and made more than 5 miles per hour impossible.  It was worse when passing pit villages for some reason, all that free coal eh?  It was so cold driving like that, at times you could barely feel your hands so it’s a good job there was a conductor on board to take the fares.

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